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Another factor that materially influenced dining times was theatre hours. In Shakespeare’s day performances began about two o’clock, which kept them conveniently out of the way of mealtimes, but that was dictated largely by the need for daylight in open-air arenas like the Globe. Once plays moved indoors, starting times tended to get later and later and theatre-goers found it necessary to adjust their dining times accordingly – though this was done with a certain reluctance and even resentment. Eventually, unable or unwilling to modify their personal habits any further, the beau monde stopped trying to get to the theatre for the first act and took to sending a servant to hold their seats for them till they had finished dining. Generally they would show up – noisy, drunk and disinclined to focus – for the later acts. For a generation or so it was usual for a theatrical company to perform the first half of a play to an auditorium full of dozing servants who had no attachment to the proceedings and to perform the second half to a crowd of ill-mannered inebriates who had no idea what was going on.

Bill Bryson, At Home: A Short History of Private Life, 2010

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